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Why We Are Where We Are? (I) 

By Mwalimu George Ngwane

Chevening Scholars from left to right Sona Peter, George Ngwane and John Ngando

(A review of the poetry book “Messing Manners” by Mathew Takwi during the launch December 9, 2014)Right from the illustration on the coloured glossy cover of the book “Messing Manners”, the writer sets his thematic agenda. A beautiful street with posh buildings is being littered by the mess emanating from our social, sexual and political bad manners. It only takes the sole and conspicuous effort of a woman to use the broom of the poet to, in the philosophical note of the author “sweep self clean and in neatness swing his blessed broom round society for better sanitation”. The poet’s forty-five poems written in seventy-nine pages in a high quality paper book can be divided into three Categories: (i) Poems of piety (ii) Poems of protest and (iii) Poems of praise.

Poems of piety
Mathew’s poems of piety are those with religious overtones and they occupy the first 10 pages of the book. In poems like “A Candle of faith”, “Circle me”, “April 2011”, “When our lady called me”, “Christmas 1997”, or “Easter Sunday 2013”, the author is frightened by mortal fear yet inspired by providential faith. He is frightened by the fear of “devilish target, spiritual attacks, arrows visible and invisible, sordid bows of spam ephemeral” yet inspired by faith “in the wind-like stream of air that fire his antagonists to vanquish” and faith when he “supplicates, genuflects to be aided by the Holy One.

With a mixture of plea and prayer, reverie and revelation, the poems of piety take the reader on a spiritual level where there is liberation from the “metallic tonnage of sins”, salvation from Christ “always standing by” and transformation from Our Lady who is always prepared “to present our cleared soul to her son”. Using the technique of earthly enchanted slumber and spiritual epiphany, the poet, like a spider, weaves a web of truth which may be weak enough to be snapped by mortals but strong enough to be reconstructed as the poetic lines are glued by divine love.
Because the poems evoke total supplication or submission to the Lord, the reader would be tempted to read them with his or her “knees kissing the floor”. In most of the poems in this category, the poet uses the first person point of view “I” to establish a personal dialogue between self and soul. These poems are like a diary with dates and venues that invite the reader into a personal conversation of confidence, conviction and conversion. Hear him in the poem “November 2012…” “On official mission to Bamenda; and after the day’s assignment, to hotel room returned and retired, thankful prayers to my creator, for his mercies and graces freely received”. But though the lines jump out as personal testimonies, they resonate with our daily experiences of the perpetual confrontation between evil and good, darkness and light, temptation and triumph.
In these poems, he uses diction to create an atmosphere of assurance and protection, a mood of defiance rather than defeat and a spirit of resilience rather than resignation. The lines give both voice and visibility to spiritual presence around the reader. That is why in these poems we hear “gentle voiceless voices and whispers”, our heads are “cuddled”, our cotton white shirts are “fondled”, our bodies are “smoothly glided and our “heavy shoulders are gently tapped”. He emphasizes the image of light and purity by frequently using spiritually-laden phrases like “light a candle”, “white oval cloud”, “milk white garments”, “cotton white smiles”, “white satin gowns”, woolen snow-white Christmas”, “cotton-white shirts” and cotton-white body”. Indeed, in his poems of piety, Mathew Takwi assumes the role of a Poet-preacher on the pulpit.

Poems of protest

As a poet of conscientisation, Mathew’s poems clamour for liberation from the claws of corruption, embezzlement, exploitation, greed, graft and political inertia, they chronicle the salvation from the choruses requesting sovereign conferences, sovereign voices and sovereign sincere talks and they celebrate the transformation of the chief who now sees reason to revert his “Ou en sont les preuves?”

In the poem “Let me be a Noah”, the poet condemns social dislocation due to greed and ostentatious life style. In the poem “I saw” he is against insensitive political leadership; in the poem “Tomorrow’s Masters” he details a sordid classroom environment in which young pupils are bound to learn; in “Mbolombolo” there is juxtaposition between opulence and penury, nonchalance and exploitation; in the poem “Where to, All alone?” the poet sees glittering limousines gliding on crowded dusty lanes”; in the poem “Because I am an Anglo” he raises the Southern Cameroon Question that is being wrapped in barbed wires while the Anglo persona is being devalued daily; in “Give us a chance” he brings us face to face with democracy for the old by the old while children languish in psycho-physical chains”; in his poem “Bimbia” he graphically takes us through the gruesome journey of slave trade where villages were emptied of undulating muscled men ferried to farms in the America to excavate their wealth or in the poem “Of Happenings Estranged” in which the poet conjures imperialist conspiracy theories as our patrimony is surrendered to “Voltaire’s heirs”.

But, most of all, his title poem “Messing Manners” is a frontal indictment on sexual orientation. The author’s abhorrence for homosexuality and trans-sexuality is evoked with the use of rhetoric questions ominous of threats and human catastrophe. Hear him “If you gender your gender, dare not adopt fruit of his gender, dare not birth-certificate gem of her gender, for new world you madly mould”. This title poem can be summarised in this mind searching rhetorical question “If his masculinity were to feminise his masculinity, if her feminity were to masculinise his feminity, where would you have emerged to sprint around like mouse chased from hole by hot water?”

In his poems of protest, the poet places the debate on society’s moral decadence in the heart and the head of the reader. His use of parallelism or the repeated use of words, clauses or phrases, does not only create a cadence of emphasis but one whose effects is meant to stir our emotion. Because he uses reason and emotional appeal to convince us to think or act in a certain manner, his poems of protest can be considered poems of persuasion rather propaganda.

While in the poems of piety he acts like a gadfly pleading for a covenant between Man and God, in his poems of protest he is like a housefly settling on the wounds of society. Here he assumes the role of a poet-politician on the podium and a poet-physician on a platform. Indeed, every time we read poems in this category we come out like patients who having been consulted in the hospital of morality, now have reason to be prescribed a social vaccine against the ebolarisation of human decency.

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